Every time I see a Tata Safari on the roads, it reminds me of a massive adventure which Bijoy had with it. So massive and so adventurous that nobody whom I know has done it since (I know quite a few people, okay?).
Regular BSM readers would remember that in 1998, he drove a Safari – hold your breath – from London to Cape Town. For the geographically challenged, the drive from ol’Blighty to the tip of the huge continent of Africa covered over 19,000 km and 24 countries across 42 days. And as you all know, he has lived to tell the tale. And so did car no A54.
I remember him telling me that the one thing he wanted in the Safari was more oomph from the engine, something he sorely missed when being overtaken by vintage V8-powered Allards and classic Rollers on the autobahns. Accepted that the poor rally Safari was heavily loaded to the gills; even then, that 90 bhp/19 kgm turbodiesel really had to work for its life.
Now, after seven full years, the Safari finally gets a turbodiesel that befits an SUV like it. An engine that perhaps Bijoy would have been happy with in the London-Cape Town 4x4 Adventure Drive. That’s because the new Tata Safari Dicor is powered by a 3000cc inline-four that develops 114 bhp at 3000 revs and over 30 kgm of torque between 1600 and 2000 rpm. Yes, I’m just coming to that: Dicor is Tataspeak for common-rail direct injection technology, just like Hyundai’s CRDi and Mahindra’s CRDe. Which means, the Dicor stickers notwithstanding, the Safari now not just conforms to emission standards, it’s more powerful, torquey and fuel-efficient too. Just as well.
The main issue with the Safari is that it’s quite a heavy vehicle – it tilts the scales at 2,115 kg (kerb); add about 110 kg extra for the 4WD variant. And it’s too late in the day to shave off the excess fat. The consequence of that is though the engine specs sound great on paper – 30 kgm of torque at 1600 rpm is decent by any standards, and betters both the Mahindra Scorpio and the Ford Endeavour – it feels just about adequate, and is not a great leap in terms of outright performance. Still, with the Dicor engine, the 4WD Safari is substantially quicker than the 2000cc turbodiesel variant. A seat-of-the-pants run gave us a timing of 7.3 seconds for the 0 to 60 kph dash, and the century mark came up in 19.4 seconds. The 2WD may be quicker. Of course, we will conduct a full test to give you the rest of the figures.
The suspension on offer is independent up front, with a double wishbone and torsion bar, while it’s a five-link setup at the rear with coil springs. Though it’s not what you would call taut, over time, Tata has been working on the Safari and have reduced the body roll substantially compared to the early Safaris. It feels much more planted and confident – something you will appreciate in a tall SUV. The Safari rides on 235/70 R 16 Bridgestone Duelers that also contribute to the overall package. However, on tight, hilly turns, the rear-wheel driven Safari Dicor has a tendency to oversteer, which needs to be corrected with just the right jab of opposite lock. It would be wise not to check out the capability of the suspension and adhesion limits of the tyres, especially if the roads are wet and rough. I guess this is a good time to tell you that the Safari’s brakes do their duty quite well. The ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear get additional support from ABS and EBD in some of the versions, which also get airbags for the driver and front passenger – I highly recommend it.
The new dash layout and the switchgear are definitely great improvements and have given the Safari a new lease of life. Plus, the new visual treatment, keeping most of the body panels intact, has also extended the Safari’s life – an all-new replacement comes up in 2007. It’s surprising how long Tata has taken to give the Safari a much-need facelift – it has been around since 1998. Since the SUV has also been updated to be sold in the export markets, maybe it’s time for a new adventure with the new Safari Dicor. How about the 2005 edition of the London-Cape Town 4x4 Adventure Drive, Tata? I know somebody who would love to sign up.